What is the most important thing to look for when you’re weighing up which companies you should apply to for your next career move? Is it the compensation on offer? The office environment? The working culture?
Perhaps, if you have an eye on building your career, you might look beyond the things you’ll experience personally and look at the strength of the company itself – its market share, profitability, brand reputation.
All these things are important, and a conversation with an expert recruitment consultant can help you to navigate your options. However there’s also one other factor which you should look for, yet few people do.
Innovation – it matters for everyone
The hidden ingredient is a company’s commitment to innovation. If you work in R&D or business strategy, this is an obvious attraction – the chance to build or steer something new – but it’s something that everyone should consider and look for in a potential employer, whether you work in accounting, sales or anything else.
1. Innovation predicts a company’s future
The pace of change and disruption within almost all industries continues to accelerate, driven by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. Even the strongest companies of today could find themselves as the Kodak of tomorrow if they fail to embrace innovation, with implications for all their employees.
2. The benefits spread widely
Even if you aren’t directly involved in innovation efforts at a company, they can make it easier to succeed in your own role (for example in sales, it is easier to close a deal with a product which is kept ahead of the competition). Innovation will also add interest and variety to your work (for example giving a finance team the fresh challenge of forecasting revenues for a new product line.)
3. It isn’t just about new products
The most successful companies recognise that innovation isn’t just about development teams, or customer-facing products and services, but that it’s an engine for improvement throughout an organisation. The opportunity to change things for the better matters for every job, whether you work in HR, marketing or customer services.
4. An opportunity to build your CV
To succeed in an interview, the ability to tell a compelling story about your experiences is critical, and stories about innovation are some of the strongest. When we play a role in creating something new, it becomes much easier to talk about the difference we personally made and the impact on the business, in contrast to simply overseeing something someone else set up.
5. Good innovation is built on strong culture
Many of the cultural attributes which are important for innovation are the same attributes that make for a great place to work – honesty and transparency, collegiate organisations, a sense of purpose and ambition.
Signs of Commitment
So, if you believe innovation is important, is it as simple as finding companies who talk about innovation being at their core? Unfortunately, in a world where so many companies aspire to be the new Apple, Google or Amazon, claims of commitment to innovation are everywhere, and “Proudly Stagnant”. The real evidence of innovation is not in what a business says, but rather what it does, so here are some signs to look for:
1. Clear processes
Despite the romantic notion of innovation as a mixture of art and chaos, in a business setting supporting processes are needed. Look for a clear picture of how ideas are collected, prioritised, tested and rolled out.
2. No ivory towers
Innovation is exciting, and some companies will have roles dedicated to it, with the result that innovative work can sometimes be (physically or culturally) walled off from the rest of the organisation. While time spent on innovation will certainly vary across the organisation, it should be everyone’s business to make a contribution
3. Customer closeness
One of the greatest stimuli for innovation in a business is input from customers. This doesn’t mean that customers should design new products (Henry Ford’s once said “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”). However, understanding customer needs is key (a car is a good response to “what are the drawbacks of horses?”). Look for signs of customer feedback reaching all parts of the organisation.
4. Healthy attitudes to failure
“Fail fast, fail often” is a common mantra in Silicon Valley, but in practice can be as unhealthy as refusal to take any risk, if it is used to justify pulling the plug on promising ideas too early, or makes a team less hungry to succeed. The best attitude to failure is somewhere between these two extremes; looking for success, but accepting failure where lessons have been learned, and the right decisions to iterate or stop have been made along the way.
5. Protected investment
All businesses will have good years and leaner years – even a business which is growing consistently will see years where they beat their budget and years where that is tougher. You can learn a lot about how a business values innovation by looking at what happens to R&D spending in leaner years – is it the first thing to be cut to hit the numbers, or is it protected as far as practical?
I hope you found this article insightful. For more hints, tips and advice about the world of work, visit our dedicated Job Tips here or click on one of the links below.